Sunday, November 30, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Books

Books, books, books. Love them. I've read 48 so far this year. A month to go in 2014 ... how high will the tally rise? A few books I've really enjoyed lately:

To See the Moon Again by Jamie Langston Turner - Turner is an excellent writer. Her characters are always a little quirky, but they're the best part of her books. This was one of my favorites. I could identify with the quirks (and a bit of snarkiness) of the main character. We waited a long time for this release - hope the wait won't be as long next time.

Grey Mountain by John Grisham - I usually read Grisham's books. They're easy to read, although nothing that makes you think too hard and I usually leave disappointed with the ending. I enjoyed this one, though, as I learned much about the mining industry and its impact on Appalachia. Coal mining is in my heritage, so it was a particularly interesting read for me.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel - The friends and I who do a Bible study together chose this book to do for the fall. We're closing in on the end (we'll complete it by Christmas). It's a fascinating look at an investigative journalist's exploration to prove whether or not Christ existed and if He was who He said He was. It's interesting to read from the perspective of a believer; I wonder what it would be like to read from the perspective of an unbeliever.

Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga - I enjoy memoirs, learning about other people's lives and their life experiences. I actually purchased this book for someone else but decided to read it first. I'm glad I did. Emily writes honestly and captivated me from the first few chapters. Her writing is brave and honest, and I so appreciate her honesty.

As the sweatshirt I used to have said, "So many books; so little time."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Grandparents

I grew up knowing one set of grandparents. My maternal grandfather passed away when I was an infant and my maternal grandmother lived a few states away and passed away when I was six. Most of my memories of her come from pictures, I think. I do recall her being with my mother one day when I came out of preschool. I also remember being at her house and walking down to the post office with my older brother to buy candy.

I was privileged, however, to know my paternal grandparents. They lived nearby until they moved a couple of hours away when I was in elementary school. They would come visit and to attend special events. We would see them at the holidays and usually we kids would take time spending a week or long weekend at their house in the summer. We'd meet them halfway at the McDonalds. 

I had the privilege of knowing these grandparents from childhood to adulthood. I was in my 20s when they passed away. I'm so grateful I got to know them as an adult and not just from a child's perspective. Spending time with them and helping them in their last days and years was truly a blessing I will always treasure.

I chuckle to think that now I'm a grandma. Seems like I was just the granddaughter the other day. I hope we can be as much of a blessing to our grandchildren as mine were to me.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Comfort Food

Food may be the last thing most of us want to ponder the day after Thanksgiving, but leftover turkey and mashed potatoes can be considered comfort food, right? Macaroni and cheese is another good one. The other night I made rice pudding with rice we had leftover from a family dinner (the rice that multiplied, as I sent a bowlful home with my mother-in-law and used some as a base for Chinese food and STILL had enough for this rice pudding endeavor).

I've never had rice pudding or had any attraction to it. To be honest, it seemed old-fashioned and favored by the older crowd. My mother-in-law has been having it fairly often lately and suggested I try making some with the leftover rice. So I did. Rice, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar. Some patience and a lot of stirring and voila. Easy peasy.

I looked at my bowl and thought it looked like creamy rice. Not a very attractive aesthetic. First bite, I remained fairly unimpressed. Second bite, a bit more intrigued. To avoid a bite-by-bite overview, I'll skip to the end and let you know I finished all I made. There was something simple and addicting about it. I can't tell what it was ... it may have been the sugar, but I didn't make it too sweet. There was just something that made me keep reaching for the spoon instead of putting it away in the fridge.

I don't envision having a hankering for rice pudding again any time soon, but I think I'll tuck it away and add it to my list of comfort foods. But I think mashed potatoes and mac-n-cheese will continue to vie for first place.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Thanksgiving Flowers

Lilies and sunflowers may not be typical autumn flowers, but they certainly are lovely and brightening up our home this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Our Dogs

We have two dogs who bring much joy and laughter and companionship to our home. (They also bring a lot of work and some financial drain, but the pros far outweigh the cons.) One of the best things about having two dogs is watching them interact. They have so many characteristics of a human brother/sister relationship, from the teasing, to the agitating, to the taking of toys, to the sticking up for one another, to the snooping, to letting us know that treats and attention must be dealt out evenly, to the cuddling. Often, just like human siblings, they are in their own corner doing their own thing. But occasionally they'll chill together and just be. And photos like this one just make me smile.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Walking About Town

When we moved to this town, one of my few prerequisites was to be able to walk places. We prepped for this move for a couple of years and spent many a Sunday walking and riding our bikes through neighborhoods seeing if we could find something that might be the right fit. Our first choice was to live "in town," but that didn't work out the way we'd hoped. We couldn't find the right property and our search kept bringing us back to this house, which is about two miles out of town.

It still met my ambulatory requirements, though. We don't have sidewalks, but if you time it right and avoid school buses, trash trucks, teenage drivers before and after school, and rush hour drivers, it's safe enough to walk. There's fairly easy access to walking paths and we can walk to the campus of a residential school in just a few minutes and enjoy a change of scenery there.

But what I appreciate about this location is that I can walk to the places I need to walk to, weather and time permitting. Yesterday, it was a lovely day with highs around 70 (compared to multiple inches of snow forecast for tomorrow) and I walked to the dentist, the library and the grocery store. I can also walk to the bank, the coffee shop, the dry cleaners, the family doctor and the eye doctor. Some summer evenings, we walk to a local ice cream shop that's been in business for decades.

It takes a bit of navigating to walk safely to these places, but I'm thankful to be able to do so and not have to always hop in the car to run a simple errand. All of these places are a bit "out of town," so in some ways I think this might be a more convenient location for us than in town. Of course, if we lived in town, it would be a little easier to walk to some of the great restaurants downtown. And then we'd need to walk more often, I have no doubt!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Cute Toes

Cute toes seem like such a silly, vain thing to be thankful for, but I'm just being honest. This afternoon I got my toes painted "What's Your Poinsettia?", a very happy red color. And glancing down at my toes now and catching a glimpse of red makes me happy.

My toes are red in anticipation of Thanksgiving exposure via flip flops. However, the best laid plans may go awry and these cute toes may find themselves encased in heavy socks and snow boots instead.

It's a privilege and a perk and total indulgence, really, to get a pedi, especially at the end of November. I'm grateful we have the resources for this little treat and that something as simple as red nails (and smooth feet) can be a happy little pick-me-up.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Babies in my House

We had our family Thanksgiving today. It was a nice time together. One of the best parts was loving on the babies in the family. Our great-niece, G, isn't so much a baby. At two-and-a-half she would adamantly revoke the reference. She is the oldest of the littles in our family and it's fun to see her grow mentally and physically. She can give you a run for your money, as two-year-olds are prone to do, but she's a lot of fun.

Next comes our granddaughter H, who we of course love to pieces. She is just a joy to us and we can't get enough of her. We love to snuggle and watch her become more aware of and interactive with everything going on around here. What an utter blessing she is.

And then comes G's younger brother, L. At two months, he's bringing up the rear of this generation. He is long and lean and an avid observer of everyone around him. He just quietly snuggles, waits and watches. More than once, I caught him just intently hanging out with his eyes on someone.

It'll be fun to watch them grow and imagine what they'll be like next Thanksgiving. Such different personalities are already evident and it'll be interesting to see how those personalities push and pull toward and against one another as they grow. They're the leaders of the pack for this next generation and I am so thankful to have babies in my house to hug and love.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Pre-Thanksgiving Prep

We were out raking leaves at 7:20 this morning in temps hovering in the low 20s. Raking leaves is good exercise, but at that hour, it was easy to get frustrated with raking leaves that come from the neighbors' trees (we only have one small tree) for the third weekend in a row.

We're celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, which means I've spent most of today cleaning, not another favorite activity. I'm tired and my carpal tunnel is flaring leaving me with tingly fingers and wrists that feel weak.

My automatic default is to get frustrated with all there is to do, but instead I'm focusing on being grateful for healthy bodies that can take care of yard work and housework, the mature trees that are so pretty six months out of the year and having a home to clean. I'm also grateful for an extra-wide table with leaves to increase its length and a festive tablecloth to fit.

So many gifts, so many blessings. Stop complaining, girlfriend, even if it is mental complaining.

I'm also grateful that I just sold a bike on Craigslist for full asking price. That's today's bonus.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Everything

... For what do you have that you did not receive?
- I Corinthians 4:7

Blessed by this video today. It's good for a perspective tune-up. What's in your hands?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Living in PA

I've tried a couple of times to get started writing today and am feeling challenged to get the writing engine revving. But they say the more you practice writing, the better you become. (That's not a set-up for an amazing blog post. Promise.) So, as I type with the sun streaming through the window and having enjoyed a walk with the dogs on a balmy-compared-to-19-degrees-earlier-this-week day, I'm going to express my gratitude that I don't live in Buffalo, NY where they are simply being hammered by snow.

Snow is pretty, say, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or over New Year's when ensconced at a mountain cabin for the weekend. I'm sure snow is less pretty when it's three, four, five or six feet high, or when you have to give birth to a child in a fire department because you can't make it to the hospital, or when your French doors cave in due to the pressure of the snow and you have to barricade them with your treadmill, or when you open the front door and all you see is snow. (I have no idea what you do in such a situation. Hopefully there's another way out.)

I cannot imagine. I think it would be interesting to experience such a phenomenon, but it no doubt grows old quickly and is dangerous for many.

When the weather turns wintry, I'm not a fan of living north of the Mason-Dixon line. I hope someday to enjoy an extended break in a warmer climate during the winter. But for today? I'd say I'm pretty content to be living right here in Pennsylvania and not in Buffalo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude: Health

I was filing some bills today and couldn't, once again, get the file door shut without a bit of extra pushing and annoyance. Two crowded files in the back were overflowing and have been daring me for months to clean them out so the drawer would shut more easily. And so, in my typical this-is-not-on-today's-to-do-list-but-hey-I'm-distracted-by-it manner, I decided then and there to clean out the files.

Those files contained our health information. Most of what was in it was EOBs and receipts for prescriptions. Some of it was valuable, like results of bloodwork, lab tests and physicals, as well as the physical therapy exercises I promptly filed away after completed my regimen at the physical therapist's office and only occasionally think about pulling out and reaping the benefits of doing those exercises again.

As I sorted through the files and shredded most of it, I was thankful (again) for our health. For the most part, we've had only minor health issues and even the ones that didn't seem so minor to us truly are minor in the grand scheme of things. I am grateful for mobile, healthy bodies. I know health can change in a moment - sometimes the decline is chronic and due to the way we do or don't take care of ourselves, and other times something big pops up out of nowhere and seemingly wrecks our world.

I've been trying to make decisions that help us to eat better and we try to stay active and exercise (dogs demanding walks help with that). I was doing a PiYo video the other day and realized this old girl isn't the same girl (except in her mind) who can do everything she used to do, at least not without more effort and more pain. It was a good reminder to keep taking care of our health and maintain what we have so we can keep enjoying life ... especially life as grandparents!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Working from Home/Self-Employment

As business majors in college, a friend and I used to joke about how we would conquer the business world, jet around the country to business meetings and employ nannies to help with the children. I think even then we knew neither one of us really had the aspiration or stamina for that kind of life. But when you're in college, you can dream those kind of crazy dreams.

After college, I went to work for a non-profit (great start to conquering the business world, right?) I worked my way up the short ladder, was running the marketing and development departments and then one day my job was yanked out from under me. I'd been unhappy there for some time so while the method of terminating my time there was unexpected, I instinctively knew right away that it was a blessing.

After gathering myself together, I started freelancing while periodically submitting job applications if anything interesting crossed my path. My attempts at applications were halfhearted; I was afraid to return to a workplace as unhealthy as the one I'd left. And so I kept freelancing and here I am, 17 years later, still working for myself, generally by myself, from home.
Some people can't imagine working from home, saying they'd miss the social stimulation of the workplace. It's a similar argument to the one that purports home-schooled children aren't socialized enough. (I have no skin in that game, so no commentary on homeschooling. And as an aside, why is "home-schooled" hyphenated and "homeschooling" is not, Mr. SpellCheck?) In the early days, I missed the camaraderie of the office setting, but then I got married and the house was humming with three children before and after school, and while parenting is not the same thing as workplace interaction (although there certainly ARE similarities ... supervision responsibilities and challenging attitudes, anyone?), combined with lunches out, volunteer work and conversations with clients, I achieved plenty of social stimulation. As time and technology moved forward and birdies flew the nest, I had less and less face-to-face interaction during the day. And to be honest, I don't mind being by myself I'm a homebody and it's easy for me to stay home with my pups most days and not seek a lot of social activity.

But semi-solitude isn't the only reason I'm thankful to work from home. I love the flexible schedule that allows me time to volunteer and keep our household running. I have appreciated being able to help with occasional childcare (have computer, will travel) for others, Taking a friend to doctors' appointments or sitting by their bedside or helping to clean a house. All of this would be so much more challenging if I didn't work from home or really, to be more specific, if I wasn't self-employed. (Perhaps I should amend the title of this post.) I'm glad I have the work environment that I do. No supervising employees, no endless meetings (I can pick and choose and most of my "meetings" happen via email these days), no hassles from management, no exhaustion from inefficiencies or crises, and you can't beat my commute.

Long gone is the girl dreaming of a company jet, corner office and nanny. I'm glad there are those girls. I'm also glad I'm not one of them.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Miscellany

It's a dreary, pre-winter-feels-like-winter day outside. The rain has been consistently falling. And it's Monday. Usually days like this find me a bit stuck, unmotivated, distracted. I wouldn't say I'm having a fantastic, enthusiastic type of day, but I am having a quiet, productive kind of day, checking things off my to-do list and finding myself thankful for a variety of things. Thus, today's miscellany:

  • Finding a hotel room for an event in a few weeks when practically everything is booked.
  • AAA discount for that hotel room.
  • Inventorying the freezer and realizing how much food we have.
  • The freezer, which is probably as old as I am and was a no-cost, gracious hand-me-down that has proven so helpful.
  • Anticipating a delivery of local beef from a farm a few miles up the road from a farmer family with whom we attend church.
  • Discovering homemade (not by me) egg rolls hiding in the freezer - delicious for lunch.
  • Leaf collectors who come even on the cold, rainy days to clear raked leaves waiting by the curb.
  • Laundry that's almost complete.
  • Dogs who have been content to stay inside, but are soon going to be antsy to get outside.
  • Getting to hug our sweet granddaughter tonight.

That's enough to keep a girl going on a rainy Monday.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Resolving to Spend Time With Friends

Two years ago, I made two resolutions. I'm not in the habit of making resolutions since I'm rarely successful at keeping them. But that year, I kept both of them, with some help from my "village."

We resolved to get together once a month with friends of 20+ years, the friends that introduced us. If we didn't get something on the calendar, history had proven that life would get too busy or too involved or too [insert excuse here] and we'd rarely spend time together.

We recently made a list of everything we've done these last two years and it's been great to see the variety of activities and events, everything from roller derby to the ballet to a wolf sanctuary. Some months we simply went out to dinner or hung by the pool, but spending time together doesn't have to be expensive or exotic, it's the together that matters. November's activity is attending a fundraiser for the food bank. This is the first fundraiser on our list, but I'm pretty sure it won't be our last.

Here's to creating more great memories on this crazy life adventure!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Learning New Words

I am a self-proclaimed word nerd. I love playing Words with Friends, Scrabble and any other game with words at the center. I have been kindly mocked for looking up a word in the dictionary and getting distracted by other words that catch my eye. See? Word nerd.

I love learning new words. Most of them I'll probably not have occasion to use, but when I come across them in a book or other publication, I'll be glad to at least recognize them.

I was on Grammar Girl's site recently (looking to see if she had a post on "your" versus "you're" because improper usage seems to be running rampant all around me) and came across two new words.

  • Neologisms: words that are made up or assigned a new meaning. The examples she gave were "blogosphere" and "McMansions." Be careful when you create or laugh at a neologism - that's one of the ways new words are added to the dictionary.
  • Recondite: difficult to penetrate, incomprehensible to one of ordinary understanding or knowledge. I like this one quite a bit. It seems like a useful word to tuck away in my back pocket.

Neologisms can be viewed as recondite by the masses. 

Go forth and use a new word today!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Online Shopping

Some people love to shop. I am not one of them. That includes grocery shopping, but that's a necessity and not really the point of this particular post. I'm talking about having a list of things you want/need/should pick up, visit several different stores to see if they have what you want/need/should pick up and leave virtually empty-handed, provided you have successfully avoided the maze of the perfectly appointed displays of all the other things you don't need or really want that take up space and eventually end up in the donation bag.

For me, it's much easier and substantially more efficient to Google what I want or just go directly to Amazon. A few clicks and done. I know there are downsides to online shopping and those giant commercial online retailers, but if I can get the same thing for a decent price and not pay shipping, I feel much more satisfied and far less frustrated about my shopping experience.

Wish me luck as things ramp up for Christmas.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - How to Cut an Onion

The good news is that I survived the knife skills class without injury! There was one close call, but I made it through unscathed. There was only one minor injury at our table and bandages were close at hand.

As expected, I learned that I don't have much proper knife wielding technique, but now I have some tips that will be helpful in my future culinary adventures. The best part of the class, and the focus of this gratitude post, was learning how to dice an onion without a chopper tool or the handy dandy Grundig hand blender my mother got for me (truly an amazing tool).

I tend to get frustrated when dicing an onion by hand - the onion falls apart, the pieces slip across the cutting board, nothing resembling diced pieces result. But now? Now I know how to do it. I thought about doing a step-by-step tutorial of sorts, but then, in a continuing attempt to avoid injury (and embarrassment at my lack of photography skills), I thought it better to share this video.

The only difference in her technique and what we learned last night is to put the tip of the knife into the onion to puncture it each time to start each of the initial slices. I only add that because it seemed to work well in class. Happy dicing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Being Out-Whatevered

Do you like how I make up my own words? Just play along with me and go with the premise that "whatevered" is an actual word found in dictionaries. 

Yesterday the dogs and I headed out for our daily walk. Like most days, I pretty much looked a fright: yoga paints, sweatshirt, hair pulled back to expose the gray undercurrents that need some attention. Yes, I pretty much look like a vagabond most days when I walk and usually I don't give it another thought. Yesterday, I realized what how I looked, shrugged my shoulders and laced up the sneaks. (One of the most fabulous things about dogs is that they do not care what you look like. At all.Their love and loyalty is not based on visual cues, thankfully. )

So we headed out and had to stop at the park to make a deposit on Shelby's behalf. At the playground, some preschoolers wanted to pet Shelby and so while the delightfully precocious girl was telling me that Shelby "wasn't large, wasn't small, she's medium" and asking if she was a "helper dog," I made small talk with a very put-together mom. Matching clothes, sassy vest, hair and make-up done but not overdone. I thought to myself that it figures today of all days, looking like I did, I'd have the opportunity to have face-to-face interaction with someone.

Yesterday, I felt outclassed.
Today while walking the dogs (notice the theme here), we reached an intersection at the same time as an older lady. She was wearing a visor and running shorts, and I'd guess she was in her 70s. After she admired the dogs and received a fierce growl from Cooper, we all started up the hill - she on one side of the road, us on the other. And she started to jog. We kept a pretty even pace - her running and me walking with two rambunctious pups in tow - but then she took the lead.

Today I was outpaced.

Tonight, I'm going to a knife class with a friend. We're going to hone our knife skills. Well, she'll be honing her skills; I'll be trying to avoid injury.

Tonight, I'm sure I will be out-skilled.

While I hate to be out-whatevered due to my pride, competitiveness, a drive to over-achieve, those opportunities give me time to realize and hopefully improve things I don't really like about myself.

In the park, I jumped to all sorts of conclusions about the perfect life that mother must have had, but I don't have a clue. Maybe she was dressed and on her way home from a doctor's appointment or a job interview because her husband's unemployed; maybe she's been wearing sweats for a month and took the time to dress nicely; maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe I don't know anything about her (except her children are adorable) and I should stop making quick judgments based on appearances.

Today, I felt wildly out of shape when my brisk walk didn't keep pace with the slow jog of a woman who's a generation ahead of me. For a while, I felt frustrated, like I lost a contest that only existed in my mind. Pushing aside feelings of inadequacy and making excuses for my slower pace, I thought, "I should only hope I'm that active at her age." (Don't get me wrong, I have never been a runner and seriously doubt it will seem like a fabulous idea 30 years from now.)

Tonight, well, I'm not sure what I'm going to experience, but I can guarantee you that I will be low on the skill totem pole. So I'm going to try to take my mind off competitive mode and just enjoy the time with my friend and the experience of learning from the experts. Oh, and avoid injury. That is my first and foremost goal. And if I'm successful, I will be grateful for that, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Veterans

Today is Veterans Day, so it seems only fitting to remember with gratitude the service of generations of men and women who have given their service and sometimes their lives for independence and freedom, those who serve and protect. And  I'm thankful for veterans' families who often make tremendous sacrifices of their own.

And I think I'm going to leave it at. Everything else I try to write seems to provoke inner mental arguments about war and peace and all that goes along with the topic. Since it's my mind, I guess I would win the arguments either way, but frankly I'm a little tired for that. So I'll just express my gratitude here and in person when I next see someone in uniform.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Late Blooms

With snow in the foreseeable forecast, I'm delighted to see a few final blooms on our knockout roses. They are persevering ... a bit of summer color fighting to survive despite dropping temperatures and competition from the beautiful palette of autumn.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Food Mills and Warming Drawers

Food mills and warming drawers may sound like funny things to be thankful for, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about today and since we're making dinner, both these things came to mind as things that I appreciate for making life in the kitchen a little easier.

I got my food mill last year when my sister-in-law's grandmother moved to a retirement home and was cleaning out her home. I'm not sure how old the food mill is, but it's been through a generation or two in the kitchen. And so it continues. Last year, I tried making applesauce and tomato sauce with it. The tomato sauce was not a success; in fact, I've given up trying to make sauce after several years of trying. It's not the food mill's fault; it's just not a good fit for my skills (or patience). But the applesauce turned out great last year and this year it was even better. It's a time-consuming endeavor, but I enjoy being able to buy local apples and make our own sauce to enjoy throughout the year.

On to the warming drawer ... When we renovated our kitchen, the designer suggested two ovens. I don't cook for large groups very often and really didn't think that was a practical choice for me. But a warming drawer? SCORE. It's perfect for keeping extra dishes or leftovers warm, leaving plenty of oven space for the main dish. It's also great to reheat leftovers during the summer months without turning on the oven and heating the house unnecessarily or using the microwave for a quick hit. I get a lot of use out of the warming drawer and it's one of my favorite things in the kitchen.

The food mill has been in use for decades; the warming drawer less than one. The old and the new are a winning combination for this cook.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Things That Keep Me Warm

Tonight, I'm grateful for a fire in the fireplace, a blanket on my lap, steaming tea in a mug, and a puppy curled up next to me. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, a furnace that works (at it's age, you never know from year to year). The temperatures have headed south and while it's certainly not a polar vortex-induced climate, the chill seems to have settled into my bones.

Keeping it short and sweet tonight. But thankful. Always thankful.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Soup

I love soup. It fills you up and warms you up. I could use some soup on this blustery day as I watch the leaves whirling outside my office window. I'm grateful B considers soup an acceptable meal (unlike bagels and cereal from my single days). Add some rolls or corn bread, maybe a salad or some fruit and bam! Dinner's done.

I don't think I gave soup much thought before I got married. Tomato soup was OK and chicken noodle if I was sick. But I think my affinity for soup started not long after I was married. I pulled out emailed recipes from Pam the other day ... an email dated November 7, 2014, so I'd been married less than a month. I'd requested her recipes for chicken corn soup (something I'd never heard of before I moved north of the Mason Dixon Line) and beef vegetable. I made the beef vegetable last weekend and realized how labor intensive soup making can be.

Soup making is definitely better with a friend. You can chat while the meat cooks or the vegetable simmer. One can chop while the other shreds the meat. You have a fellow taste taster to figure out what needs missing for just the right taste. And it's easier to make more than one kind of soup simultaneously so you both have leftovers to freeze for another day.

Pam and I had "soup days" for a number of years. We tried some different kinds, including New England Clam Chowder and Buffalo Chicken Wing Soup, but we usually always included or came back to the chicken corn and beef vegetable. Stick with what you know, right? For nearly 20 years, I've enjoyed making gumbo with the friends who introduced me to Brian. I have some broth leftover from our last gumbo adventure and am looking forward to adding some shrimp and chicken and savoring not only its deliciousness but the memories of good times with good friends.

Soup is a staple in our home over the colder months and I'm looking forward to making and enjoying different kinds all season long.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - The Food Bank

I'm running behind schedule today, so this is going to be shorter than it deserves to be. One of the best parts of my day/week/month is volunteering. I've volunteered for nearly two decades with agencies helping those in need. For the last five years, I've been a regular volunteer with our community's food bank.

While there is much discussion and debate about real and presumed abuse of various forms of social assistance, the need is real for the large majority of families who come through the food bank's doors. Most of the clients are extremely grateful for the assistance they receive. As a volunteer, I am blessed to offer a bit of help to those who live in our community, a community that has a reputation as being well-off and entitled. There is certainly a facet that fits that classification, but there is also a component of true need and many are unaware. Over the years as a volunteer, I've learned that need exists no matter where you live.

This morning, our food bank was exceptionally busy. With nearly double the number of clients coming through the doors, lines were backed up and volunteers were flat worn out. It was a crazy, non-stop morning and required the efforts of many volunteers - from parking lot attendants, registrar, shoppers, freezer and produce distributors, food weighers, car loaders and the behind-the-scenes re-stockers - to pull it off.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to volunteer and I'm grateful that this food bank, like thousands across the country, exists to serve those in need.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Hardworking Husband

I don't have enough words to express how grateful I am for a husband who works hard. He works hard at his job - running a company, dealing with customers and staff, making decisions that affect lives every day. He does not let his job control his life, but he is fully invested in the responsibilities he has been given.

He works hard at home, too. While we're a team around this joint, he handles the stuff that is beyond my physical capability or desire (such as climbing on the roof to access the gutters), makes sure our cars are in good working order, mows the grass even when he'd rather be watching college football, and checks out things that go bump (or scurry scurry) in the night (although thankfully, that's a rare occasion). I recently wanted to clean the vacuum and couldn't figure out how to get it apart, despite successful past endeavors with other machines. I'm sure the last thing he wanted to be doing at 9 p.m. was helping me dismantle a machine that, according to online reviewers, wasn't designed to be taken apart. When finished, he looked at me and said, "We're not doing that again."

He works hard as facility manager at church, too. With an aging building, there's always something that needs to be repaired and a limited budget requires creative solutions. He's a good leader and what he can't do, he's able to enlist others to help.

He works hard on behalf of his family - and not just in a roof-over-our-heads sense. He and his sister take turns attending doctors' appointments with his parents. He offers advice and insight to our young adult children. He has always been a steady rock in their lives, really all our lives. He is a patient uncle.

He doesn't take a lot of time for himself, but I'm glad when he has the chance to enjoy a bit of downtime, putting miles on the Mustang or getting a Hannah hug. I'm thankful for his work ethic and that he gives his best no matter what he's tasked to do. He's a great example to all of us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Spray Paint

What? Spray paint is worthy of an attitude of gratitude post? Well, yes, yes, it is. Especially given my aforementioned lack of craftiness. Spray paint is my friend.

It's a beautiful day here and unless you love the long, cold winter around these parts (and you know who you are), it's important to take full advantage of temps in the high 60s since you may not see them again for five or six months. So today was the perfect day to finish a little project that's been lingering for a couple of months: spray painting the stools and chair I got when I did a little "trash pickin'" on a walk this summer.

For the cost of some sand paper, a couple of cans of spray paint and elbow grease (plus a few ibuprofen to stave off carpal tunnel tingling), those stools can now take their place by the pool table downstairs and the chair can used to rock visiting babies to sleep.

Spray paint makes small paint jobs - especially those involving spindles - easier. I've spray painted lamps (good-bye brown, hello crisp black), a changing table for church (magically transformed in less than an hour and who would have thought black for a changing table would be the right choice, but it is), light plates, metal wall hangings (brown had to go to make way for silver) and more. If you don't like the color, it's easy enough to paint over without a big investment (says she who made two trips to Lowe's today to buy the better color).

I feel empowered (I know) when I spray paint. It must release that inner craftiness that lays latent in my subconscious. I finished the stools this afternoon and thought, "What else can I (spray) paint?" Christmas ornaments using the silver paint came to mind, but I'll restrain myself since 1) it's 60-some degrees outside which is not Christmas weather and 2) I'm not going to go crazy and be prepared for Christmas before giving Thanksgiving its due.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Ping Pong

For the first four-plus decades of my life, I probably played ping pong a handful of times. So when we renovated the basement and got a ping pong table top for our pool table, I really didn't anticipate playing very often. I thought it would be used by the next generations visiting our home.

And then.

We started to play. The first few times, I was fairly inept and more than a little concerned about my seeming lack of eye/hand coordination. But we've played a few times a week over the last month and I have earned a laudable progress report. Practice really does seem to pay off. I'm still more than a little inept and not likely to turn pro anytime soon (or ever)), but I've become more competitive and actually won (barely) two games over the weekend.

Ping pong give us a chance to unwind together at the end of the day and keeps us active since dark evenings are upon us earlier and after-dinner walks aren't as feasible. But what I like best is how much we laugh during these games - at poor shots, lucky shots, facial expressions and verbal reactions. Not only can we pound out stress on that little plastic ball, drive Shelby crazy by playing a ball game she can't be part of (she paces around the table counterclockwise and howls), and get a little exercise, we laugh together and we laugh a lot.

And so that ping pong/pool table we invested in? Already paying more dividends than I ever imagined. I'm looking forward to continued good times and laughter around that table in the days to come.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude: Arts and Crafts

Anyone who's known me for more than a week knows that craftiness is not part of my giftedness or skill set. I am a cake-decorating school dropout - true, it was an adult ed class at the high school but I knew during the first session that I was setting myself up for pain and decided to forfeit the class fee and avoid torturing myself. I see lovely pictures of crafts and flower arrangements in magazines and think, "I can do this!" even while muttering to myself, "Why frustrate yourself? Why? Why? Why do you insist on thinking you can do this?"

I have helped in arts and crafts during Vacation Bible School and am usually put to shame by the preschoolers and early elementary students who fully understand and complete the simple projects before them. Me? I best serve if I can write their names on their projects.

I can think of two craft projects that turned out well. I took a wreath-making class (again, adult-ed style) and the finished product was actually presentable because I followed the instructor's example step-by-step and didn't deviate with any of my own so-called creative flourishes. And I once took a basket weaving class with my mother and finished weaving my basket (as opposed to my more talented seamstress mother who gave up on her basket. I found her partially woven basket stashed away when helping her move years later,).

Despite my historic and chronic failures in this area of life, last week I was grateful for arts and crafts. I was spending time with my nephews after school. One escaped to his room to finish reading his book and the other hung out with me, telling me about his day, sharing his grades, trying on his Halloween costume. So very grateful for this time spent together. He is 11 and I fear these times are fleeting but I hope they are laying a good foundation for the future.

Our conversation ran its course and I suggested we play a game. Agreeable, he headed to the game closet and said "Want to make something instead?" Gamely pulling on my Good Aunt Hat, I said, "Sure" even as I was pushing down my defeatist self-talk about how inept I am at anything remotely crafty. This is the same nephew who has a mind like an engineer and at age 5 or 6, when I couldn't help him figure out his Lego project and suggested he wait for his uncle to arrive, gamely said, "I'll figure it out myself." And so he did.

So last week, he brought out the fusion beads and encouraged me as he pointed out the simple designs in the catalog that I could make, counting the beads and following the example there. He helped me search through the hundreds of beads to find the colors I needed, even as he created his own design using the creativity of his mind without painstakingly following an example like I was.

And at that kitchen table, I marveled at the gift of arts and crafts. Yes, I successfully completed two small fusion bead projects, but the real gift arts and crafts gave me that afternoon was the time we were spending together. Aunt and nephew, hanging out, talking about "stuff." I'm pretty sure we'll stop spending time together over arts and crafts in the years to come. The venue is likely to shift to diners, pizza places or college coffee shops, but that afternoon, I was actually happy to be doing arts and crafts, to just be with my nephew, to witness his creativity, to see him be an encourager and a helper.

Bring on the arts and crafts.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude: Hospice

Hospice has been on my mind lately. Today is the day that Brittany Maynard set as the day she would end her life, not desiring to endure the anticipated end-of-life suffering her terminal brain cancer would bring. I saw an interview this week that she may want more time, even as the symptoms of the disease increasingly ravage her body. 

As I watched the video she made in support of her choice, read related articles and listened to various professionals debate both sides of the issue of physician-assisted suicide or a patient's right-to-die or death with dignity (choose your term), my mind went back to a very different death experience and the beautiful gift of hospice.

Residential hospice is where Pam spent the last few days of her life. She was tenderly and compassionately cared for by physicians, nurses and others who also lovingly supported those of us keeping vigil. That became a place of gathering, of laughter, of tears, of camaraderie. It brought together family and friends from every aspect of her life. Many of us had nothing in common except our love for her and in those last few days, that love bound us together as we sat by her bedside and spent those last fleeting moments with the woman who had touched each of us in ways only she could.

Over that weekend, we pretty much took over the kitchen/common area as we shared snacks and stories and memories. I was concerned that other families and guests might feel overwhelmed or bothered by our presence. But I think instead it may have been a gift to them, the gift of seeing us celebrate the life of the one we loved, to find joy in the midst of pain, to find support from those we knew well or barely knew.

Hospice was a gift to Pam and a gift to the ones she loved. We knew she was well cared for and kept as comfortable as possible, even as we knew we could do little for her except be by her side. And the ability to be by her side, to serve her in whatever small ways we could, was a lovely gift in the midst of significant pain. 

Hospice was a safe place for her and for us, and I will be forever grateful to the men and women who serve as hospice workers and volunteers.